After Graham Rahal had to give up the lead for fuel with four laps to go, Scott Dixon took P1 from Mike Conway and went on to win today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.
But a wild final lap involving the Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader also claimed some of the post-race spotlight.
Will Power, who had dominated the first half of the race only to fall to the back of the pack due to a Lap 40 spin, had managed to climb back up into the Top 10.
Heading into the Turn 11 hairpin, Power went to the inside of Justin Wilson and the two made contact, allowing Sebastien Bourdais to pull alongside them both as they moved onto the front straight.
But in that same area, Conway was creeping along the inside after running out of fuel. A nearby corner worker was waving a yellow flag, but Wilson, Power and Bourdais zoomed by it and Conway.
Bourdais got into the outside front stretch wall, as Power beat Wilson to the stripe for ninth. However, citing that local yellow for Conway, INDYCAR Race Control bumped Wilson to ninth in the final standings and knocked Power to 10th.
Thus, Power will take a 51-point lead over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night.
But Power’s advantage could have been so much more.
The Australian started the race from pole and right after the green flag, a multi-car melee ensued behind him on the way up the hill to Turn 2.
Among those involved was Castroneves, who had to pit under the caution to replace a damaged front wing. But on Lap 9, he had to pit again under green, with his crew cutting away his right rear wheel guard on the No. 3 Chevrolet.
That stop put Castroneves one lap down, in 22nd and last place. He eventually returned to the lead lap but could only finish 18th.
While Castroneves struggled, Power was cruising. He led by almost 10 seconds before his first stop at Lap 17, and then rebuilt a sizable lead before Carlos Huertas pulled off course and stopped to force a full course yellow at Lap 29.
Rahal and Tony Kanaan chose to pit, but the other leaders stayed out. Kanaan and Rahal lined up 18th and 19th respectively for the restart at Lap 36, which only lasted for a few moments.
In Turn 7, Bourdais, Castroneves, and Sebastian Saavedra went into the corner three-wide. Contact was made between the trio and Saavedra was ultimately left behind after stalling.
That led to the leaders pitting en masse at Lap 37, and in that exchange, Dixon was able to beat Power back onto the track. But a group of six drivers that was led by Kanaan and included Conway and Rahal stayed out, causing Dixon and Power to be slotted into sixth and seventh for the Lap 40 restart.
On that same lap, perhaps the biggest moment of the race occurred in Turn 7, when Power spun out on the inside of the hairpin on cold tires. He fell all the way back to 20th place before putting on a solid recovery drive in the race’s second half.
Up front, Conway – who had charged by Kanaan for P1 right after the Lap 40 restart – took his lead north of eight seconds. Kanaan ceded second to Rahal before they both went into the pits together at Lap 57.
Conway, however, kept going until Lap 60, when he pitted and switched to the reds for the final stint of the race. But although he cycled back to the front at Lap 64, his lead had been melted down to a few car lengths over Rahal.
At Turn 7, Rahal went for it on the inside and was able to get Conway wide enough to take the lead for himself.
Since Rahal and Kanaan pitted early in the previous cycle, though, there were questions about them being able to make it to the finish without a yellow.
For Kanaan, the question was answered on Lap 73 when he was brought in for fuel and tires (he finished 13th).
That shifted the spotlight to Rahal and his nearby pursuers – Conway in second, Dixon in third, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth. But with four laps left, Rahal finally had to pit.
Shortly after Rahal ducked in, Dixon went to the inside of Conway on the front stretch and took the lead for good in Turn 1. Then at Turn 7, Hunter-Reay got past Conway for second place.
As for Rahal, he was hit with a pit road speeding penalty for a disastrous ending to his day. He would finish 20th after contending for what would have been his second career IndyCar win.
Simon Pagenaud ended up finishing third behind Dixon and Hunter-Reay. With that, the Frenchman is still mathematically alive in the championship going into the ACS finale at 81 points back of Power.